I recently finished Mass Effect 2 - I was reserving my judgement until the end because Mass Effect 1, while great, failed in a few areas to deliver a KOTOR-beating experience that reviewers had attributed to it. ME2 was looking very promising, but I couldn’t realistically call it until I was done. Now, I can safely say that KOTOR has finally been matched, and in some ways surpassed. The main thing that I griped about in my Mass Effect review was that the characters were far too vanilla and predictable.

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Writing good documentation is hard. While I happen to think that API references generated from source code can be extremely useful, they’re only part of the story, and eventually everyone needs to write something more substantial for their software. You can get away with writing HTML directly, and separately using a word processor to write PDFs for so long, but eventually you need a proper tool chain with the following characteristics:

  • Lets the author concentrate on content rather than style
  • Generates multiple formats from one source (HTML, PDF, man pages, HTML Help etc)
  • Does all the tedious work for you such as TOCs, cross-references, source code highlighting, footnotes
  • Is friendly to source control systems & diffs in general
  • Standard enough that you could submit the content to a publisher if you wanted to
  • Preferably cross-platform, standards-based and not oriented to any particular language or technology

When I came to write the OGRE manual many, many years ago, I went with Texinfo - it seemed a good idea at the time, and ticked most of the boxes above. The syntax is often a bit esoteric, and the tools used to generate output frequently a bit flaky (texi2html has caused me many headaches over the years thanks to  poorly documented breaking changes), but it worked most of the time.

I’ve been meaning to replace this tool chain with something else for new projects for a while, and DocBook sprung to mind since it’s the ‘new standard’ for technical documentation. It’s quite popular with open source projects now and it’s the preferred format for many publishers such as O’Reilly. In the short term, I want to write some developer instructions for OGRE for our future Mercurial setup, but in the long term, I’d really like a good documentation tool chain for all sorts of other purposes, and Texinfo feels increasingly unsatisfactory these days.

Having spent some time this week establishing a new working tool chain, and encountering & resolving a number of issues along the way, I thought I’d share my setup with you.

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I’ve been an advocate of digital distribution for a while now; I think packaged physical distribution of a product which is essentially entirely complete as a stream of data is hugely wasteful financially and environmentally. Ever since publishers stopped bothering to give you anything worthwhile in that game case - manuals these days are rubbish, carbon-copy affairs that rightly no-one bothers to read because the in-game tutorials are more interesting, and Ultima-style cloth maps and runes are consigned to history - physical game cases are doing precisely nothing but take up space in my house and making me get up to fiddle with disks when I want to play a particular game.

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It’s precisely 10 years to the day that I registered OGRE on Sourceforge, so in some ways, today could be considered to be OGRE’s 10th birthday. From most other people’s perspective that won’t come until next year though, since I only made the first public release to CVS in May 2001, over a year later, which really kicked the whole thing off. The delay was down to me not really being able to start work in earnest until late 2000 because of a course of study I was on at the time, but I already knew in February 2000 what I wanted to do, it would just be a few months before I could start to realise it.

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Having already disrespected mailing lists, I might as well get all my ranting about old staple communication techniques out of my system, by admitting that I’ve never really liked IRC. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, particularly as a casual social tool, but I just can’t say I’ve ever received any great value from it in a project sense, primarily because of it’s real-time and unfocussed nature. As a user of a project, I’ve frequently found that the people that are able to answer my questions are not online at the same time as I am.

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I’m not blogging as often these days; as you know I don’t traditionally ‘do’ short blog posts - in my book if something is worth blogging about, it’s worth making sure it holds together as an argument, and as a piece of writing generally - and a combined lack of time of anything I’m motivated (or permitted) to talk about has left the site a little bereft of content. Luckily my OGRE Twitter is stocked with more frequent and less lovingly crafted status updates on what I’m doing there.

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I’d read about One Big Game in EDGE this month, and it was a great idea - kind of a developer-led version of Child’s Play with a more significant UK presence, and where funds are donated from game sales themselves rather than only from related activities. So, I was keen to see what their first game Chime was like, produced by Brighton-based Zoë Mode. At first glance it appears to be a hybrid of Tetris and Lumines, and undoubtedly shares a lot of visual and gameplay styles from those games, but actually it brings plenty to the table on its own too.

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Well, you’ve got to accept that Pope Benedict XVI isn’t afraid to tell people what he thinks. The recent furore about his comments that the church should be exempt from UK equality laws, because it would “impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs” is pretty chilling. Cue a shot of loads of people on the street with banners saying that Catholics should have the ‘freedom’ to discriminate against gay and transgender individuals because of their beliefs.

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I’ve established a tradition on this blog of reviewing games that came out several months ago, thus cementing the absolute irrelevance of my commentary to the majority of the intertubes for whom content goes out of date in about a day. It’s kind of the opposite of a magazine that’s delivered by ninjas every 3 hours to ensure cutting-edge coverage. Thing is, unless a game is truly awful I like to try to finish it (or at least finish with it, which is not always the same thing) before deciding my opinion of it, and these things take time.

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I love it when shots from Ogre just show up in funny places. This time, it’s from a comic strip called Stolen Pixels on the Escapist, where Ogre-powered games Torchlight and Zombie Driver have been used for comedic purposes: Thanks to BuschnicK for the heads-up on the Torchlight one, I was surprised to see Zombie Driver just days earlier too!

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